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Study Up on Dialogue

“So how was it?” he asked.

"Succinct, concise and a breeze to read," she said.

"Really." He didn't sound convinced.

"Look, where other books on writing fiction drop the ball on dialogue, this guy not only picks it up, he spins it on one finger. . . and he tells us the same thing." She took a sip of beer and leaned into him. "We need to know our characters."

He grimaced. Took another slice of pizza and let the white, oily cheese pull across the plate. "Not that again."

"You know it's a juggling act. All the mincing - or not mincing - of words. Making it tense. Or alluding to something." She pulled a piece of crust apart. "Shutting a character up at the right time. It's all in there."

"Huh. Well, I'm not there yet. I'm still working on the plot."

"You'll get there."

"Can I borrow yours?"

She swallowed the beer. "Buy your own."

(Credit to Amazon Reviewer Mary George)

In prepping for today’s post, I found this top review, and it made me giggle. It’s also a great illustration of today’s study topic: Dialogue. The theme of this month has really been centered around the craft of writing, and that underlying message has been, a good writer should have a box of tools to craft with. I’ve been sharing mine through the month, and while I have many more tools, this is another one of my top must-have resources.

“How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript” by James Scott Bell tells us that every other element we put into a story, the plot, characters, structure, will all fall flat, if the dialogue is dull. Taking a moment to consider that, it’s a very good point. I am sure we all have memories of conversations we’ve wanted to escape from, or the text-book-boring exchange of pleasantries. Now, place those inside of a book you’re reading, and how fast do you think you would put said book down and walk away, never to return?


I will admit some of the examples Bell uses are on the classical side, and very bare bones to the point. However, the real gems to his insights are found in the actual content pieces. First bit of advice, that is highlight worthy is ‘Identify characters’ opposing agendas at the start of each scene to increase conflict and tension.’ The golden rule of drama is conflict. Central to every story is a conflict of some sort, characters over coming or not, those conflicts, and the growth and falls that happen leading to the conclusion. Now try to imagine getting there with every line reading like a fourth grader’s homework assignment.

This next tip, I challenge all of you to take a moment and try! Bell’s tip it to take a dialogue heavy section in your work and pick a random line. Whatever your eye falls on first. Then go to your bookshelf and pick up the first novel you pick up from your favorites, open it randomly, and the first line of dialogue now replaces the line from your own work. Seem’s crazy, but it’s an easy and effective way to add a creative twist!

Bell’s tips go on to include everything from punctuation, the art of cursing, and my go-to editing practice, bare bones dialogue. I am a very wordy writer, so the practice of ‘snipping’ my character’s conversations has helped craft that dramatic tone needed to keep the dialogue engaging. Overall, 10/10 recommend.

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